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Three ways Messy Church is being prophetic in our time

Posted by Martyn Payne on 03 Jul 2017

Messy Church is proving to be a catalyst for change within established churches. It is giving them permission to step outside inherited thinking about how church should look and behave, and has set many of them free to experiment with new ways of being church for the 21st century. And what’s even more exciting is that that all of this is happening alongside an inspiring story of evangelism and community transformation that Messy Church is enabling for congregations, who for too long have felt embattled and helpless in the face of a secular Western world.

Every Messy Church visit I make is a privileged glimpse into 'future church' and fills me with hope for how Christians will proclaim the gospel afresh in this generation. Let me share just three of the ways that Messy Church is being prophetic in our time - reflections that were prompted recently by a particular visit to a Messy Church on the south coast.

  1. Almost without exception, every Messy Church I visit is led by ordinary Christians who are inspired by their love for Jesus. To their surprise, they have become leaders of new worshipping communities whose heartbeat is Christ-centred hospitality, creativity, all age and celebration. Traditional church systems need to affirm and nurture the Messy vocation of these unique leaders, offering them whatever is best in our church traditions that will strengthen their ministry, but without diluting their energies and enthusiasm. They are the 'kingdom of priests' who make up ‘God's peculiar people’ and who come from all walks of life and educational backgrounds.
  2. Messy Church has given us a way to welcome the presence of children in all aspects of our gathered worship and discipleship. This movement of God's Spirit has reminded the whole church that we as adults can't be Christians without them, just as the children need us as adults to help them into fullness of life in Christ. Messy Church at its best is a place where each generation is intentionally welcomed and its contribution is valued. This is worked out in practice when I come across teenagers helping in the celebration, children assisting at the activity tables, whole families sitting down at the meal table and everyone having a voice in how Messy Church is run, both within and alongside each Messy monthly gathering. Messy Church has reignited an intergenerational culture of worshipping God that involves everyone and for 'seven whole days, not one in seven'.
  3. Messy Church has made everyday evangelism possible again. Evangelism has been in danger of becoming a no-go area in the lives of many Christians, as it can leave us simply feeling guilty that we aren't doing it or, rather, no longer know how to do it in a post-Christian culture. Talking about our faith isn't easy, especially in the one-to-one way in which we are usually urged to do it and which arguably is more the gifting of some but not of all. In contrast, Messy Church offers us a community context for sharing faith which is possible for all, through the activities around a Bible story, during the experience of that story told well and over the street-party-style meal where the awkwardness of the one-to-one encounter becomes instead a natural and relaxed conversation about faith between groups as they eat. I have been privileged to share my love for Jesus so often and with so many in these ways at the Messy Churches I visit and in the one that our team runs monthly. Messy Church has put God back into people's everyday conversations and this is just what a post-secular world is longing to hear as they search for meaning, hope and a genuine experience of God's presence.

These are just some of the ways in which Messy Church and other fresh expressions are changing the face of church. Messy Church is a lay-led, every-person-ministry style of church that makes God-talk possible with each other and with visitors, and a way of being church where children are comfortably in the midst so that all of us can discover how to become Christ's lifelong disciples together.